The truth about nutrition

The Asian Age.  | Nivedita Jayaram Pawar

Nutrition is an essential element of healthy living.

Everyday a new headline pronounces a certain food as “bad”, while praising another food item for its “amazing benefits”.

Are organic foods better than regular ones? Will eating carbs at night make you fat? We all hunger for nutrition advice, but not all the advice you hear is worth believing.Myths, half-truths and wives’ tales persist in health and nutrition. we speak to experts to separate the science from the silliness

Nutrition is an essential element of healthy living. It’s something we should all have a good understanding of. However, thanks to the food trends, fads and stacks of misinformation, there are countless nutrition myths floating around. Everyday a new headline pronounces a certain food as “bad”, while praising another food item for its “amazing benefits”. The lists of proclaimed “superfoods” and “harmful foods” seem to change on a weekly basis — leading to further confusion. So let’s look at popular nutrition myths and misunderstandings and the truth behind them. Chances are you will stumble across several myths you have always believed.

Food is more nutritious than conventional fare
This is pure humbug. A recent study by Stanford scientists found very few differences in the nutritional content of organic and conventionally grown foods. The differences that do exist are so small that they’re unlikely to influence the health of the people who chose to buy organic foods. According to Rajeswari Shetty, head of dietetics at Fortis SL Raheja Hospital, Mumbai, buying organic fruits and vegetables may help you dodge pesticides (which can cause some tummy trouble), but there’s no convincing evidence that conventional and organic produce are different in nutritional composition.

Wheat is wicked
: Wheat happens to be the most demonised food in recent times. It hasn’t helped that numerous celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Lady Gaga propagate a gluten-free diet. But the fact remains that wheat is a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. “Unless you suffer from a celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, there is no need to avoid wheat in your diet. Rejectingwhole grains completely may even lead to weight gain. That’s because wheat boosts the level of the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain, so if you skip them, chances are you will feel unsatisfied and end up snacking unnecessarily,” reveals clinical nutritionist Kanchan Patwardhan.

Diet Sodas help keep you slim
Diet sodas are actually very unhealthy, believes Dr Anjali Hooda Sangwan, a clinical nutritionist. “When the body is hungry and craving food many people try to suppress hunger by having a diet soda which is very wrong. Most diet sodas contain aspartame, which has been linked to cancer in some studies. They also contain lot of caffeine which tends to dehydrate you. These sodas cause insulin resistance and backfire on the sugar cravings.”

It’s OK to eat whatever you want during pregnancy
Sorry ladies! ‘Eating for two’ is just a myth. Calorie requirements only increase marginally during pregnancy. So giving in to each and every craving that strikes may not be a good idea. Dr Hooda stresses that meeting nutrient needs like calcium and folic acid are crucial in pregnancy. “When hunger strikes focus on good nutrition like nuts, vegetables, fruits, good fats and complex carb just like a non-pregnant woman. If you eat anything or everything, you will put yourself at risk for gestational diabetes and hypertension during pregnancy which may lead to premature birth.”

Brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs
This just stems from the notion that brown is always better (pasta, flour, bread, you know the drill). But do brown eggs pack more nutrients than their white counterparts? “The nutritional content between brown eggs and white eggs is exactly the same; the difference is just the colour of the shell,” explains Dr Hooda. So what”s with the colour? White-feathered chickens lay white eggs. Brown feather chickens lay brown eggs. It’s as simple as that. One reason brown eggs tend to cost more is because hens that lay brown eggs are usually larger and eat more food than hens that lay white eggs. And guess who pays for that? You.

You can eat as much as you want as long as it’s healthy
Truth: Healthy food like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and non-fat dairy products have a lot fewer calories than the less healthy food that’s full of fat and sugar. Protein keeps hunger at bay, and the fibre and water in the plant foods help to fill us up. But it may not help if we eat a lot more calories than you burn off, warns Dr Shetty. So portion size does matter. “Whole-wheat rotis, nuts, fruits, oatmeal, fresh-pressed juices — are all healthy, but they are not without calories. In fact, they’re actually quite high — half an avocado is 161 calories and 18 cashews are 163 calories. This means you can’t mindlessly eat what you like just because it’s healthy. Watching portions is the key, even when eating nutritious foods.”

A sports drink is necessary if you are running, playing soccer or in the heat
Truth: That holds true only if you are an athlete working out intensely for more than an hour at a time, corrects clinical nutritionist Kanchan Patwardhan. “If you are not, you do not need a sports drink during or after exercising. The fluid and electrolytes you lose through sweat are easily, and more healthfully, replaced with lemon water or a fruit juice. If you like the taste of flavoured beverages, try adding chunks of fruit to season your water,” she adds.

Nutrition bars are nutritious
Truth: Most nutrition bars in reality are calorie bars dressed up in nothing but healthy catch words. “Nutrition bars are very dense in calories, especially sugars, and can make you gain weight. It’s best to avoid them, unless while on travel or when you are unavailable to find real food,” advises Dr Hooda. Interestingly, nutrition bars are one of the few foods that started out in space and made their way back to earth. Called “space food sticks”, in 1960’s, they were basically non-frozen snacks that provided both energy and nutrition to astronauts who could fit them comfortably in their helmets.  

Kale is the healthiest green (read super food)
Truth: In the world of food this green, curly leaf is the Shakira of salads and the Lady Gaga of leafy greens. But truth be told, the humble spinach and even lettuce beat the alleged super green, in a nutrition study held recently. Even the greens atop beets which we cut off and throw in the garbage pack more nutrition. “Kale is not a superfood. It belongs to the family of brassica oleracea. Cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce and even brussel sprouts, all belong to the same family and are just as nutritious as kale,” stresses Dr Shetty. Moreover, if raw kale is not digested well, it could cause bloating and also affect vitals organs like heart and kidney because of its high levels of potassium.

Carbs At Night Will Make You Fat
Truth: Calories are calories and it doesn’t matter what time you eat them. What matters are the total calories you take in. “Eating at night has long been associated with weight gain. It does not matter what time of day you eat. It is what and how much you eat and how much physical activity you do during the whole day that determines whether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight,” explains Dr Shetty.